Fabian Delph believes the joy and unity on show during the World Cup can help create “a better England”.
Like so many football fans back home the Manchester City midfielder had started to dream big and was convinced he and his team-mates would return home as “super heroes” with the trophy in tow.
That prospect ended over the course of 120 agonising minutes against Croatia on Wednesday, but Delph is hanging on to an even grander idea – that the nation might emerge from its summer of fun a more harmonious society.
“I would hope so that we are going back to a better country, the nation seems to have been brought together,” he said.
“From what I’ve heard it seems to be a better place. If we continue to do what we are doing and unite people then I am sure we will be living in a better England.
“I did think that we would go back as superheroes, because I genuinely thought we were going to win the World Cup. That hasn’t happened. But we are in the public eye, we need to continue to be good role models and try to help the young guys to look up to us and try to do what we have done.
“The diversity (of the squad) has definitely brought people together. It is great for the country, and great for us as players to be part of that as well, and almost force that to happen.”
Delph is unique among Gareth Southgate’s squad in having already been back in England during the tournament, tasting the atmosphere first hand.
He was granted four days away from the group to attend the birth of his third daughter and quickly noticed the shift in public mood – even as he prepared to welcome his new arrival.
“Everybody was screaming, ‘It’s coming home’, every one I saw,” he said.
“We had a home birth…the midwife was asking for a picture. She told me, ‘It’s coming home’. When I was doing the school run, usually the kids run past me, but I was signing autographs. Even the teacher seemed to like me a bit more now.
“I’ve felt the support wherever I’ve been, everyone who has caught eyes with me has been giving me that support.”
Delph has been a quietly influential figure in Russia. Saturday’s third-place play-off against Belgium will be only his second start of the competition, but he has also been part of an informal ‘leadership group’ who act as go-betweens for the squad and management.
Beyond that he has been encouraging his team-mates’ reading habits.
“I’ve basically been a library, handing the books out. There are a few readers in our group,” he said.
“You probably imagine us to be playing on the Playstation or playing cards, but there are quite a few geeks in the group. There’s five or six of us. There’s Marcus Rashford – has that surprised you? – Eric Dier, Danny Welbeck. Danny Rose likes a good read.”
One man emerged with a ‘must do better’ on his report card, though.
“I’m trying to get John Stones to read,” added Delph. “I gave him a book, but he hasn’t read it. He hasn’t even opened it.”
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